Sunday, April 19, 2009

Metropolitan Cooking & Entertaining Show

The Metropolitan Cooking & Entertaining Show was an unusual combination of Food Network Celebrity Chefs, local food and entertaining professionals and a mishmash of food vendors and people selling everything from laser hair removal to Sham-Wow. Tickets for the celebrity portion felt a bit pricey (ranging has high as 75 or so bucks), but for around $25 you could walk around and enjoy all the vendors and sampling and catch some cooking and entertaining lectures from locals. A big thank you to Foodbuzz for sending me!

In the celebrity theater, I had the chance to catch Tyler Florence and Guy Fieri. Tyler was preparing brunch on the main stage, including a veggie frittata, blueberry pancakes with a banana topping, maple syrup glazed bacon and a San Marzano bloody mary. It all looked delicious, and he had some interesting tips that I'd never heard before. For example, he recommended dabbing a paper towel in melted butter and greasing the skillet for pancakes with that rather than melting butter in it directly. Glazing bacon with maple syrup and popping it in the oven looked incredibly simple and ridiculously tasty and decadent. Given prices, I wasn't too surprised to see that the room was only 1/4 full for his 10 am presentation.

Tyler gave the food away to two older women in the crowd who had asked questions. You'd have thought they were the next contestant on the Price is Right the way they ran down the aisles and squealed with delight. It was then that I realized that Food Network is like porn for old ladies. Or to put it more mildly, Tyler Florence/Rocco Dispirito/Guy Fieri/et al are to baby boomers what Zac Efron is to their granddaughters! They swoon, they giggle, they flirt - forget movie stars, these ladies want a man who knows his way around the kitchen.

I didn't expect to like Guy Fieri. With hair like that, I figured he had to be an unbearable cheeseball, but he was actually even more entertaining to watch than Tyler Florence. Judging by his half full room, he might even be more popular with the swooning old broad set. I imagine his schtick would get old after a while, but his careening around the stage, mugging for the camera and his band of merry fools who tour with him made for a compelling hour of entertainment. He whipped up an Asian noodle dish that didn't strike me like anything I'd ever make. Nevertheless, I have a new found appreciation for him and doubly appreciated his shout out for natural eating. I'm on an eternal quest to convince my family to cut out processed foods, and apparently Fieri agrees!

As I said, there was an eclectic mix of vendors, so I whiled away the hours snacking on the usual suspects at events like this - chutneys, pickles, jams, sauces and baked goods! I was especially pleased to see so many GA-based small businesses represented. I dream of one day owning some sort of food-related business, and I'm impressed to see so many people making a go of it. I felt their earnestness as they pitched their wares, and although I bought very little that day, I have my fingers crossed that they all weather the bad economy.

I wanted to profile a couple of the GA vendors who stood out to me. Shop local and give these unique products a shot!

Susansnaps: This mother daughter team sell gourmet gingersnaps in flavors including traditional, cocoa and citrus. Mother makes the snaps and daughter designed the adorable packaging. Even more impressive, 10% of the proceeds go to the Susan Carver Foundation supporting cancer research and patients. Founder Laura's husband and daughter are both cancer survivors, so this is a business you can feel good about supporting.

Have you ever seen those little bags of basil plants being sold at Whole Foods? Turns out that's another local business - Sweetwater Growers. In addition to herbs, they also make herb-infused oils such as the flavorful rosemary variety pictured here. They told me they'll soon be distributed in Publix, too.

I tend to make my own flavored nut mixes for parties, but for those less kitchen inclined the tasty treats sold by Nutty Girl come in cute brightly colored packaging and pack a lot of flavor.

Mumbo Jumbo is on to a really clever idea. Much like Garam Masala combines a variety of spices into one easy to use mix, these spice mixes come in interesting flavors like java, a coffee-based seasoning with coarse sea salt, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, and other herbs and spices that goes with beef, chicken, lamb and seafood; or Mesa, a smoky Spanish influenced seasoning with smoked Spanish paprika, coarse sea salt, and a traditional Chilean pepper blend. At this point my pantry is bursting with different seasonings, so this is smart way to consolidate and save time.

Apparently Breadwinner already caught the attention of the Food Network's Deen brothers. Their super moist and delicious breads come wrapped and ready for gift-giving or devouring. Flavors like Better Than a Bubble Bath Mocha Chocolate Chip Bread and Party at My Place Pumpkin Bread were better than bread has any right to be. I was tempted to buy one but alas, sweet bready treats are not on my wedding countdown eating plan.

Emily G's Jam of Love has also garnered some serious press with a big article in the AJC. Emily may look like demure little southern gal, but she had no shortage of energy as she described her seasonal homemade jams. She was kind enough to hand write a recipe for me when I came in search of a seafood friendly marinade jam - how's that for service? I took home her Rhubarb Marmalade as a gift for my mom, and I'm looking forward to trying it as a swordfish marinade.

Everyone at the event was clearly very passionate about what they were selling. I'm still not sure what things like ring cleaning have to do with cooking and entertaining, but I suppose there's no such thing as random service shows that they can attend.

All in all a very fun way to spend an afternoon. Check out links I listed here to support local businesses (and stock up on delicious pantry staples!)



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